BIG on SMALL BUSINESS
Randy Francisco returns home to Kaua’i and takes on the role of best friend for local businesses
Born and raised on Kaua’i’s west side, Randy Francisco had a fulfilling career in higher education before returning home five years ago to head the Kaua’i Chamber of Commerce. He brought with him 20 years of business acumen acquired in administration, both as a dean and a director of international programming in the University of Hawaii system.
“In 2006 when I moved to Kaua’i, it was also the centennial year of Filipino immigration, and being the first Filipino to head the Chamber, it was just a good time to be back on Kaua’i,” says Francisco.
The country and Kaua’i were at an economic high, he says. Moving into a new arena as president of the organization, he wanted to take stock of the Chamber’s assets and what it stood for as it neared its centennial in 2013.
“It was important to me to have pride and belief in the organization and to be aware how to communicate it,” says Francisco. “People who know me by now know that I really work at demonstrating a leadership and a culture and business philosophy based on values of aloha, honoring our Hawaiian host culture.
“I came from Kapiolani Community College, where aloha was incorporated as part of a business training culture and was the major effort of the campus in terms of providing training programs not only to businesses, but also in the visitor-industry community.
“At the end of the day, as busy as we were and in everything else we do, we would ask ourselves how were we in terms of how we conducted ourselves and modeled a behavior for youth, visitors and our overall community.”
Involvement in community
Early on, Francisco solicited a donation for the Chamber’s annual golf tournament that raises scholarship funds. At a big box store, he learned that the company had already reached its yearly budget limit on donations.
So when the manager told him to return the next day, Francisco says, “I wasn’t expecting anything, but he had waiting for me three $50 gift cards. The message to me was, ‘We’re going to figure it out and we believe in your organization and we’re part of the community.’
“It brought home to me that one of the core values of doing business on Kaua’i includes being involved in the community. Everyone has a fundraiser, from football to cheerleading to the American Cancer Society. There’s more demand than supply, yet our community keeps on giving.”
Then – now
Shortly after coming onboard, Francisco ran his first Business After Hours, a monthly social and business networking opportunity for members. About 40 members of a total of approximately 300 attended.
“I wondered if this was normal,” says Francisco. “Now we’re averaging about 120 out of 410-450 members, and there have been numerous occasions when 200-225 members attended. This year, we had two back-to-back events with about 400 persons attending each.”
The most important point about the Business After Hours gatherings, according to Francisco, is that for many of the smaller-business owners, “They sometimes feel that they’re alone, but when they come together at the event, they realize that they’re not the only ones struggling, that they can meet, commiserate together, renew relations, conduct business and walk away with at least some hope and some positive energy to take back into their business – and that’s the whole point of it, especially in this economy.”
Five years ago, Francisco describes the economy as being at its peak, to the point that anybody who wanted a job could have one. He saw a shortage of workers and viewed it as an opportunity to see what the Chamber could do to respond.
“Not only was there a shortage of workers for service economy jobs, but also a shortage of high skill-level jobs such as in education and health care,” he says. “I worked with the county through the Workforce Investment Board and looked at what kind of funding could be made available for recruiting people to come back to Kaua’i, and thanks to leadership and funding from the Kaua’i Office of Economic Development, we had some success.
“But we were more concerned in the area of job creation, to make sure we have our youths being able to come back to Kaua’i in the high-tech industries. In recruiting people to come back to Kaua’i, it was important to have other jobs, to have affordable ways to live here, to recruit students to come home from the Mainland.”
Eighty-seven percent of our members are small businesses,” says Francisco. “We try to offer a little bit legal and a little bit human resources training and related programs on legislation that could affect them as a business. We try to be that advocate for them.”
Francisco says that people know the Chamber in general from its events such as networking and membership meetings, but he says, ?Another part of us that sometimes I call our invisible side is our business and legislation advocacy.”
An example is giving testimony to the state Legislature throughout the year, and meeting with elected and government officials. Such was the case when the Chamber partnered with members of the state Chambers of Commerce and the Business Alliance Network – a statewide coalition comprised of 13 groups representing various sectors of trade and industry as well as Chambers of Commerce.
At issue was a dwindling unemployment insurance fund caused by the recession, and the necessity to change unemployment insurance legislation to reduce the rate paid into the fund by businesses yet without exhausting the fund. The necessary legislation was fast-tracked and signed by Governor Lingle.
Francisco’s greatest accomplishment is a renewed sense of what the Chamber’s value is to the business community and individual members, whatever they see it as.
The biggest challenge, he says, is how one looks at things.
“I try to instill a positive attitude in everything that I embrace, because I see myself as this West Side guy who had the opportunity to see the world through the university, to go abroad, do what I did and come back home. And the lesson learned from that is anybody can be whatever they want to be if they put their heart and soul into it. It’s not about the alphabets and degrees only. I’ve learned that those just open the door.”
Growing up in Hanapepe, Francisco came from a family of about 30 teachers, some on Kaua’i and some on Oahu. His father, John Francisco, now retired, worked for Olokele Sugar; his mother was Filomena Francisco.
After attending Eleele Elementary School, Francisco went on to Waimea High School. While other youths played sports, he says, “I worked in Green Garden Restaurant, where I developed a work ethic and appreciated Sue and Gwen Hamabata for what they taught me about life lessons, and this is my tribute to them – they, like all my mentors, are why I’m here today.”
Francisco enjoys Western classical music, culture and arts of East Asia and has a compelling interest in East Asian culture and civilization because, he says, “I grew up in a neighborhood where Japanese neighbors had interesting cultural artifacts like calligraphy, as well as artwork, and I was always interested in learning more.
“My high school social studies teacher opened that first window about the world outside of Kaua’i, and that in as much as we lived in a multicultural Asian-Pacific society, it entreated me to want to learn more. Eventually, I developed and oversaw international education programs at Kapiolani Community College.”
Francisco’s work and interest took him to Japan, China and Southeast Asia. In discussing his visit to China in 1978, he says, “I understood the economic powerhouse China would become and what we at the university could do to foster economic and cultural understanding from cultural and student/faculty exchange programs.
“I said to my class, ‘Can you imagine what the commission would be to go to China to order 1 million TVs?’ I have one former student who attended law school at UH ,and I suggested he take Chinese, and all he does now is write international trade agreements with China and negotiate contracts and trade agreements.”
To learn more about Kaua’i Chamber of Commerce or to become a member, call 245-7363 or go online at : www.kauaichamber.org.